Secretive billionaire brothers Ian and Richard Livingstone make £700 million profit on covid gambling boom at tech firm Evolution Gaming
AFP/Getty Images The London billionaire brothers Richard and Ian Livingstone today emerged as some of
The London billionaire brothers Richard and Ian Livingstone today emerged as some of the biggest financial winners from the coronavirus crisis as their stake in a little-known online gambling firm nearly doubled to £1.4 billion during the crisis, the Standard can reveal.
The pair, whose trophy properties include Cliveden House, famed for the Profumo scandal, and the upmarket Chewton Glen Hotel and Spa, are the biggest shareholders in Swedish internet casino business Evolution Gaming.
Since the lockdown has gripped households around the world, millions of people have taken to betting on online casino games such as poker and roulette, triggering a surge in the share price.
The shares are held by Richard but Ian sits on the board as a director.
Evolution Gaming’s shares have surged from 282 Swedish kroner to 552 kroner since January, bringing a paper profit on Richard’s stake of a staggering £671 million.
They floated at just 80 kroner in a 2015 stock market debut that saw Richard sell the about £41 million-worth of shares to new investors. He now owns 17% of the company, or 30 million shares.
While the brothers’ investment prowess in property has famously propelled them into the lists of London’s wealthiest billionaires, news of their timely investments in Evolution will come as a surprise to most observers of the business scene.
It will also more than offset the decline in asset values from their dozens of hotels and resorts around the world.
The Evolution investment looks particularly smart as it provides the plumbing rather than the front end of the world’s most popular online casino games.
That means it benefits from the spread of online gaming across lots of different companies around the world and does not have the huge marketing and advertising bills needed to bring in new punters.
Customers in the UK include Paddy Power, Betfair and William Hill, which use Evolution’s games and badge them up with their own brands.
Evolution has made big moves into so-called live casino gaming, where players at home can bet on real life games through their PC or mobile phone with a dealer filmed live in a TV studio.
Deregulation of live casino playing online in the US has proved a huge boon for the business, while Asia is growing rapidly, too.
The Evening Standard uncovered the Livingstones’ interests as Evolution today bought a smaller rival called NetEnt for $2.1 billion today.
The move is a bid to capitalise further on the digital gambling boom, which was expected to grow 10% this year even before covid struck.
Who are the Livingstone Brothers?
Few on the London rich list come near to Richard and Ian Livingstone. Through their various property companies, primarily London & Regional, the extremely private pair own a slew of the fanciest hotels in town and across the UK, including Cliveden, the luxury hotel that was the backdrop to the Profumo spy scandal in 1961. They bought Cliveden for £30 million in 2012. Their Iconic Luxury Hotels division also owns Chewton Glen, The Lygon Arms and 11 Cadogan Gardens.
The London & Regional website says its portfolio is worth some £9 billion of offices, hotels and apartments.
Hotels stretch from 50 business or short break venues across the UK to luxury resorts destinations in Venice, Grand Cayman and Barbados. While they own the properties, they are often run by hoteliers like Fairmont or Intercontinental Hotels Group or brands such as Nobu or Hard Rock.
Apartments include the Thames Wharf development in Hammersmith and River Gardens in Greenwich.
They appear very rarely in the media, apart from their annual mention in the Sunday Times Rich List, which this year put them at £3.9 billion, or 36th in the list. While it detailed their hospitality portfolio of 17,000 rooms, it did not mention their spectacular success at Evolution.
The sons of an Ealing dentist, the duo were educated at St Paul’s public school, after which Ian became an optometrist and Richard a chartered surveyor. The combined skills proved a unique combination as Ian launched a chain of opticians beginning with Optika in Hampstead in 1989.
He bought rival David Clulow out of receivership and by 1996 had 40 outlets worth £20 million.
The brothers had already been buying and selling flats before Richard began investing in unglamorous office buildings during the early-Nineties property slump. The pair were still in their twenties.
Many of the deals were done with big bank loans, despite their tender age at the time. Jacob Rothschild’s Dawnay Day bank was a big supporter.
They built up a portfolio of properties before selling them for £92 million, fetching a profit of £29 million, to Development Securities in 1993.
Since then they carried on dealmaking, snapping up everything from David Lloyd fitness chains to nursing homes and building three Nash-inspired villas in Regent’s Park. They are building a $700 million development project in Panama City.
Ian, 58, married journalist Natalie, a Cambridge-educated writer for Tatler and OK! who published the acclaimed Mistresses of Cliveden history book. Richard, 55, married Claire Burns, daughter of Derwent London property founder John Burns. They are now divorced.
For all their lucrative property plays over the years, none have proved so rapidly successful as their foray into internet gambling.